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Located incongruously in the heart of urban Glasgow, the once rural setting of this named sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) has been heavily encroached upon in recent decades by urban sprawl. An isolated survivor of a bygone age, it is now surrounded on all sides by modern housing estates and retail developments.
Mary, Queen of Scots
As its name suggests, it is one of the many trees in Scotland which are claimed to have links with Mary, Queen of Scots.
A plaque erected by Glasgow City Council on the iron railings which encloses the tree reads “Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley and Mary, Queen of Scots, sat under this great sycamore tree when she nursed him back to health after an illness”. Darnley and Mary married in 1565 and are reputed to have stayed at nearby Crookston Castle.
An arboricultural impostor?
The sycamore is not especially large in terms of height or girth, with a trunk diameter of 1.3 metres (4 feet 3 inches), a girth of 4.09 metres (13 feet 5 inches), and a height of 18.8 metres (61 feet).
It seems unlikely that this particular tree was around at that time to support this romantic tale. For it to have been of a stature large enough to make it attractive for Scotland’s queen to sit under would require it to have been around since about 1450, suggesting that it would now be about 550 years old. This is clearly not the case. Something of an arboricultural impostor, it serves as a good example of how trees can assume a false pedigree with the passage of time.
A fine figure
The tree, nevertheless, cuts a fine figure as an open-grown specimen, with long, spreading limbs and an attractive dome-shaped crown typical of the species. The crude removal of lower limbs in the past has resulted in the formation of a number of well developed cavities on the main trunk, from which emerge impressive brackets of the Dryad’s saddle fungus (Polyporous squamossus), suggesting that the process of internal decay is well advanced.
Where stubs have been left, these are now completely calloused over to form outlandish protrusions on the trunk. Numerous nails hammered into the trunk by children to facilitate access into the tree is not doing it any favours, and is part of the price it has to pay for its prominent urban existence.
Where to see the Darnley Sycamore:
At the busy junction of the A726 Nitshill Road and Kennishead Road, in the Nitshill district of Glasgow. The tree stands on an area of public open space enclosed within circular iron railings and is readily accessible at all times of the year.
Image: copyright Archie Miles